Since it is the International Vulture Awareness day today I have decided to write something about the Bearded Vulture.
I gathered some interesting information and facts about the bearded Vulture from “Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife” as well as the “Vulture Conservation Foundation” as well as the work of Sonja Kruger (Regional Ecologist West uKhahlamba, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife)
The reason for me to focus on the Bearded Vulture is because I have a very soft spot for them. It is such a magnificent bird and is highly endangered. This is the reason why I visited the Vulture restaurant at Giants Castle for the past 6 years about 5 to 6 times a year with groups of photographers. The money we spend there is for the conservation of the Vultures.
I also include some of my own photos that I took of this incredible bird.
Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
Common name in other languages: Dutch Lammergier; German Bartgeier; French Gypaète Barbu; Spanish Quebrantahuesos; Portuguese Brita-ossos; Swedish Gamorn
Size: 100-115 cm
Weight: 4,5-7,1 kg
Wingspan: 250-285 cm
Life expectancy: up to 40 years in captivity
The Bearded vulture is an unmistakable bird, with black ‘sideburns’, red rings around the eyes and a long wedge-shaped tail. Bearded vultures have black facial markings and black wings, the rest of the head, neck and body are a rich rusty orange. This is because Bearded vultures in the wild rub themselves with ferric oxides. Captive born birds are therefore not rusty but white in colour. Juvenile bearded vultures are completely dark, and undergo multiple moultings.
The Bearded Vulture is a large solitary bird that inhabits mainly mountainous regions. In southern Africa, a drastic decline in the Bearded Vultures’ range and numbers during the past century has resulted in an isolated population that is restricted to the highlands of Lesotho and immediately adjacent areas of the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains. The Free State and south-eastern Cape Province were part of the original breeding range of the species, but now the Bearded Vulture no longer occurs in the south-eastern Cape and only forages in north-eastern Cape province and the Free State.
The decline of the Bearded Vulture in South Africa and Lesotho is mainly as a result of a decrease in habitat and food supply, human persecution and disturbances at nests, poisoning, and collisions with powerlines. Because of the Bearded Vultures’ small and declining population size, restricted range, range contraction, and the susceptibility to several threats in Lesotho and South Africa, it has been classified as “endangered” in the South African Red Data Book.
The southern African subspecies of Bearded Vulture (G. b. meridionalis) differs in appearance and size from the one found in North Africa, Europe and Asia (G. b. barbatus) but is similar to those found in Ethiopia.
Bearded Vultures are scavengers that cover large distances, and are often seen outside protected areas. In the past, the Bearded Vulture was called the Lammergeier because it was thought that these birds catch lambs. This is incorrect because they subsist mainly on bones from carcasses and there are no verified cases of these birds hunting or killing prey.
They nest mainly on basalt cliffs in potholes at an average altitude of about 2500 m. Eggs are laid in mid winter and chicks fledge in summer. Although the breeding success is high, most fledglings die as sub-adults. Adults, however, have a high survival rate and can live for many decades.
Surveys over the past few years have indicated a continued decline in the range of the species and the number of nesting pairs. For example, only a collective 15 of the estimated 37 nest sites in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park have been found to be active since 2000.
The surveys form part of several initiatives that are underway, to ensure the long-term survival of this magnificent bird. Other initiatives include the establishment of vulture restaurants within the species range to ensure a safe and regular food supply as well as addressing the threat of power lines and the use of poisons both in South Africa and Lesotho.
Unlike the myth, Bearded vultures do not hunt live prey, and even avoid meat. The diet of the Bearded vulture consists for 80 to 90% of the bleached carcass bones. The bird is capable of swallowing and digesting bones the size of a sheep’s vertebrae. If bones are too big, they are dropped onto rocks from a height of up to 100 meters, to shatter them. This unique eating habit makes Bearded vultures an essential part of the ecosystem.
Bearded vultures live in mountainous areas, often above the tree line. Because of the many animals that do not survive the winter, carcass supply is greatest in winter. Therefore, this is the time when Bearded vultures breed, and chicks hatch in February. Bearded vultures lay two eggs, but only the strongest young survive.